Monday, 30 May 2011

Clive and Dani (The Ringwood Globe Trotters) – My Birthday – Barca V Man Utd – Sunday Lunch. May 27th to the 29th 2011

A good idea is a good idea no matter where it comes from.  I have just posted the Decisions post and just after my laptop battery gave out (it fails in less than 15 minutes now) I started to chat with a British couple in the Hotel here that has wifi.  Clive and Dani are a former professional couple that spent several years working in Australia.  Now they house sit across the world.  They have been at this for a little under 2 years now and, in their words, “live out of 21 kilos”.  They have rented their house out in Ringwood, Hants and placed their possessions in storage.
It appears they have no family or work ties and simply work there way around the globe because they have nothing else to do.  The deal is basically this:  They pay their travel and they stay in other people’s homes minding dogs, cats and, on one particular occasion, a water snail called Brian!  The contracts can last anything from days to years and no money is exchanged.  They buy their clothes from charity shops “in country” and the bulk of their airline weight allowance is taken up by laptops and other communication devises.  They have been in Rute for about a month.  What a lifestyle!?  I have heard of this before but I must have looked like paralysed goldfish (open mouthed) when they were telling me all this. I was stunned by the simplicity of it all.
What a life (if you haven’t anything better to do).  Writing this means I am considering it.  At some point I need to come back down to earth and return home but this approach does offer the possibility of extended, comfortable travel for years.  Clive and Dani no longer have a home of their own (because it is rented out) but they seem very much at ease with this way of living.  The great advantage they have is they are clearly a likeminded couple who work together and enjoy the experience of living.  The only down side of this lifestyle to me is the loneliness.  I have met many interesting people on my trip but I miss the intimacy of a partner.  Clive and Dani have that and together they seem very happy with this unusual way of living.  They share their experiences with each other.  I share mine with a computer and a car!  Unfortunately they were Southampton FC fans and when I found this out I headed for the door before this sad illness had a chance to infect me – heaven forbid.  Play Up Pompey!
Ok everyone, much as I hate to admit it, I am now 45 years old!  They guys at the De Meido bar gave me a memorable night to mark it to.  I hit the bar early at about 9pm and I started on Captain Morgan and Coke.  One by one the regulars began to come in and the bar began to generate its usual friendly, happy and easy going atmosphere.  Then the moment of lovely embarrassment.  The bar gathered around me and sang “Happy Babyday” in their best English.  I was truly touched and Angeles lined up the shot glasses and the dozen or so of us “downed in one” a delicious liqueur.
The hours passed and I steadily got more and more wobbly as I finished of the Captain Morgan and went on to sample the 8 year old Havana Club.  Karaoke appeared on the bars big screen and Carmen and Angeles set me up to sing the first song – Yellow, by Coldplay.  I sang this as a duet with a local guy who I spent most of the night talking with.  He spoke only slightly more English than I did Spanish but he was a lovely man and I enjoyed our discussions about language, football and the differences between the English and Spanish cultures.  Boy, can this guy sing!  When it was his turn to sing a Spanish song this man lit up the bar.  I have never been so close to such a talented singer as this before and I am a semi-professional musician!  I loved his performances and was simply blown away by his talent.  Wow!
A little later Angeles was joined by her beautiful girlfriend who she is in a civil partnership with and everyone was having a great time.  4 o’clock passed and, never wanting to be the last to leave, I said my goodbyes and went to leave.  My request to leave was denied!  The beautiful Carmen declared that the night was not yet over!  Carmen, Eva and the gentleman I was chatting to for most of the night (whose name I can never remember – so siento Senor) and I left in 2 cars for an Arabian bar just around the corner.  This was quite an experience.  The inside of this Arabian tea bar just blew me away.  It was full of people and the decor was Moorish arches with ornate carvings.  I had not seen anything like it and the paralysed Goldfish impressions returned as I gazed around the place.  It was striking.
The four of us sat out for another hour chatting about our families and the differences in day to day living between Spain and England.  Carmen talked about her boyfriend, who is a Brazilian, and her young child.  It was good to speak to these people away from the de Meido and get to know them a little better.
Eva is a real star.  She loves to smile is very quick witted.  From the first time I used de Meido she made time for me and has helped me with my Spanish.  I think she takes the piss out of me a little and that is great.  Those of you who know me know how much I enjoy “quick fire” banter and I think Eva is an expert at this!  I can’t wait to learn more Spanish and talk with her more; I bet she is great company.  What am I saying?  She is great company!
We left about 5am. Carmen and Eva dropped me home where I fell asleep fully clothed on the sofa.  I was nicely drunk and I had yet another brilliant night with the regulars of de Meido.  I have said it before and I am saying it again now.  Would this happen in England?  England, listen and learn!  I love these people.
Manchester Utd V Barcelona, Champions League Final
Those of you who have followed this blog will recall I met Viv Anderson in Gibraltar and spent the evening/early morning with him and yet another great night it was to.  Even he however found it difficult to make a case for a Man Utd win and he used to play for them!
While I’m on the subject of Viv and that very enjoyable evening in Gibraltar, Viv delivered.  If you recall he promised to send my Father his latest book and took my parents address.  Guess what?  He stuck to his word and my Dad received a signed hardback copy on the morning of the 27th May.  What a man.  Thanks Viv, both my Father and I are chuffed to bits.
The Disco – Pub de Meido is a women centric bar.  As I walked from my digs I could see the Spanish men congregating in the other bars getting ready for the match.  There was definitely PMT in the air – Pre-Match Tension.  The de Meido was quiet and Angeles and I had a table together and settled in to watch the match.  I hate Man Utd and decked out in my Portsmouth FC shirt I was definitely cheering for Barca.  This isn’t going native and I would have cheered for Arsenal or Liverpool and of course my beloved Portsmouth FC.  I, like most of my friends simply hate Man Utd – sorry Viv!
No doubt you know the result.  Man Utd were blown away in the second half and the best team, the best team by a mile, won and made it look easy.  Was that Van de Sar’s last game for Man Utd?  I think it should be.  I think the occasion got to him and he looked very slow to me.  David-Villa’s goal was the highlight.
I went home after that.  I was still feeling rough from the night before and I wanted to see and enjoy the Spanish celebrations on my walk home.  It was great.  They lit bonfires, fireworks were set off and the cars tooted their horns.  Good for them, it was a very well deserved victory.  Again, no pissed-up groups of men behaving in a threatening manner, just people enjoying themselves...
My Blog and a Big Thank You to My Readers/Followers.
I just want to say a big “thank you” to all the people who texted me to say happy birthday and complimented me on my blog.  The biggest compliment of all came from my Father.  Thanks Dad, your kind words were totally unexpected.  I have not read any of it myself – I just write it – so I don’t know how well it reads.  My blog is my travelling companion, like the Mazy.  It is also my record of this fantastic trip so when I get back to England I can remember, for years to come, the things I have done and the great people I have met.  If in places it may appear a little sentimental then so be it.  I have tried to be as honest as I can and I’m trying to document how I feel as well as what I have seen.  I make no excuses.  I could have included so much more but some of these posts are quite long enough!  To all of you, thank you for your support and I am glad you are enjoying these snapshots of my experiences and I hope I continue to be informative and entertaining.  Writing is becoming an addiction.  I always fancied being a journalist and maybe through this blog, in a small way, I have become one.
Sunday Lunch
Terri and Les kindly invited me to Sunday lunch and I eagerly accepted.  They are good company and they are both honest, fun and have many stories to tell.  They also have a swimming pool and the offer was there to use it.  The hours flew by and the food was excellent – savoury rice, salad, new potatoes and chicken marinated in lemon, garlic and Les’s secret spices.  All the things I love.  I got there at 330pm sharp and could not believe my watch on the way home when it told me it was gone 9 o’clock.
They overlook the huge fresh water lake here and the views are simply stunning.  They appreciate just how good their lifestyle is and I think it would take something major for them to leave their lovely house and their 600 olive and fruit trees.  They offer B&B at 40euro’s a night and the rooms are excellent.  The largest room is on the first floor and has a generous sun terrace overlooking the lake.  The location is quiet and I bet they put on an excellent breakfast.  If any of my friends back home fancy touring this part of Spain I would recommend staying here.  When I get back contact me and I will pass their details on to you.  You won’t be disappointed.
The Next Few Days
For the last 2 weeks I have been enjoying myself and having some late nights.  This is in stark contrast to the way I started my trip and as I am coming to the end of my Spring adventure I must get out of Rute and explore the great cities that lie close by; namely Cordoba and Granada.  The Moorish influence is still very palpable in this part of southern Spain and my Spanish friends have assured me that these two great cities will astound me and I can’t wait to go.  In many respects I think I have saved the best to last.  I have housework, food shopping and other stuff to do today but tomorrow its Cordoba.  I have tried to go before when Geordie was here but the parking was a nightmare so the attempt was abandoned.  The morale of this story is don’t go to Cordoba on a Saturday!  I’m really looking forward to this and if it is as good as everyone says than my camera is going to get a sun tan.
As ever, more to follow.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.... Rute, Late May 2011

I have spent the last several days just relaxing, sleeping in late and walking down to the Meido Bar for a late drink or three.  The Disco-Pub de Meido is a great little bar owned (as far as I can make out) by two ladies, Carmen and Angeles.  Angeles is a biker and has an immaculate Suzuki Intruder.  She likes her rally’s and is off to Portugal soon for a weekend of rock music, beer and anything else that takes he fancy.  Good for her!  She works very hard and deserves her time away from work.  I hope she has a safe journey.
Yesterday was her 44th birthday.  At midnight the regulars produced a cake, complete with lit candles and we all sang “Happy Birthday”.  The tune is the same as in England but with Spanish words.  She was really touched by this.  I love to see people taking the trouble to make someone else feel special - even if it is only for a few minutes.  Her regular drinkers are clearly her friends.  I stepped back and I think I enjoyed her moment as much as she did.  I know my imminent birthday will be completely different but that is ok.  It’s my choice I suppose.
Carmen is the other co-owner (as far as I can make out).  Carmen appears to be strong character.  She has a lot to say and I bet she is a great person to know.  She definitely has a mind of her own and comes across as a funny and intelligent woman who believes in what she says and says it with a smile.  I bet she is passionate about everything she does.  She is also very beautiful.  It is quite a mix.  She was the first person I spoke to in de Meido.
In a previous post I have said how much the locals, despite the language difficulties, have tried to make me feel welcome.  They take the time to speak to me and I can tell from their body language and facial expressions that their moves are genuine.  They know I’m on my own.  I think they sense I have had an interesting life.  Mariose and Eva are regulars in the bar and they try to talk to me and include me in what goes on there including Angeles’s birthday celebrations.  They invited me over.  They gave me Champagne and a piece of cake.  They made certain I was included in the group photos.  Because I appreciate this so much I try to remain a little aloof.  I’m not being rude or unappreciative but I respect their right to enjoy themselves without some English “hanger on” slowing them down.  I think they understand this – I hope so anyway.
I feel very frustrated that I can’t express myself here.  I’m an intelligent and articulate man and I love to talk.  I would love to get to know these people.  I have tried to learn the language from books and CD’s but I just can’t quite get it right!  Even the basics have so far eluded me.  Simply asking “how are you?” (como esta) in Spanish gets a blank face from the Spanish here.  If it is frustrating for me imagine how exhausting it must be for my Spanish friends to keep on trying to communicate with me?  They do keep trying though and I understand a little more every day but my progress is very slow.  When I return here (and I will return) I will ensure I can speak some Spanish.  I feel I need to repay them for their efforts.
I could be wrong but I think the Meido bar is rare in Spain and these girls deserve respect for having such a business in a country where the male still has primacy.  The male dominance here is a subtle thing and totally unnatural to me.  English men (those from the south anyway!) open doors for ladies, carry the shopping and share the cleaning and cooking duties at home.  I don’t think it is quite the same here.  In England a man is measured by his modesty and the respect and deference he shows those weaker than himself.  It is the best element of the English culture.
The title of this post is Decisions, Decisions, Decisions and here are my options:
1.            Stay in Rute another month.
2.            I could stick to the original plan and leave Rute on the 8th of June and get my ferry from St Malo on the 11th.
Both options have their charm but the reason why I have the time and money to do this trip is because I am ill.  I ignore it but it is always there – the pain from my broken body.  I have worked very hard in the last year to lose weight and build my body so it is strong enough to endure prolonged independent travelling but my injuries are serious.  My pain levels are increasing every day.  Today, simply moving off the sofa is a painful experience and whilst I know the pain will ease as I stretch and warm up my back I’m too far from home to push it.  Although I am working out here I need regular access to a swimming pool and gym to rebuild myself again properly.  Rest, dumbbells and pain killers are not enough.  If I relapse I could be bed ridden for weeks.  At home alone that is difficult.  A thousand miles from home alone means other people will need to help me and that is unacceptable.  It’s my problem, not anyone else’s and I have a 1000 mile drive ahead of me.  I also need a haircut!
I have had a great time in Rute.  From the start of this trip I have obeyed the rules I set myself when I left in April.  I have tried to blend in as much as I can and not get involved in any romantic or other complications.  I try to look at everyone but look at no one.  It is a good plan when travelling alone in countries when you don’t know the language or the customs.  I also need to think of the “bigger picture” to.  I have unfinished business in England.  I can always return and I now have my own contacts to do exactly that in the autumn.  My destiny – the “whatever” and “wherever” - can only be decided in England.
So far I have not offended anyone.  I have been well received wherever I have gone and met some fun and interesting people.  I have seen and learned so much.  My car is one piece, dent free and running well.  I have now travelled some 4600 miles.  I think it is time to accept that this trip is coming to an end.  I should be thankful it has been (so far) a success and concentrate on the next one rather than pushing this one too far.
With a heavy heart, I will leave Rute for home on the 8th of June.  It will be my last great journey on mainland Europe.  I’m going to miss the challenge of it all and the thought of this trip coming to an end has made me a little sad.
Back to today.  I need to work out and post his on my blog.  The bar is closed tonight so a quiet night in.  I think I’m going to cook myself something nice and have a class of good wine.  More to follow.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Gibraltar and a Night with the Former England, Man Utd and Nott’m Forest Footballer (Yup, you read it correctly!) Mr Viv Anderson – 18th to the 19th May 2011

With a thick head from my night out in Rute I headed off to Gib at about 9am.  The clouds were heavy and it looked like it was going to rain so I was glad to start the 140 mile journey early.  It was uneventful until I entered British soil and it hammered down.  Gib was bigger than I imagined and after negotiating the narrow streets, continuous one-way systems, heavy traffic and torrential rain I found the Rock Hotel finally only to find they were full!
I left the Rock which was located at “Upper Rock” to go to the 4* Caleta Hotel on “East Rock”.  I got a standard (£160 per night!) room for the first night and had to have a suite on the second night (£270 per night – ‘kin ell!).  The first night I stayed in due to the weather and shared a table in the bar with a great bloke called Brian who is a courier.  An ex- copper and ex-Navy/Royal Marine medic, we had some things in common and as we chatted we realised we knew some of the same people from the late 80’s early 90’s.  Six degrees of separation anyone?  I asked Brian to pass on my regards to the people that we knew and hit the sack at about 10pm in pain.  Nice guy, great few hours.  Chris, Topsy, Bill et al, if you are reading this remember when we were really, really excessively wild and tore up the world?  It’s amazing what you forget.
After brekky I was out of the door before 9am and walked into town.  This is some place.  I walked forever taking in the tiny (everything in Gib is compact) Trafalgar Cemetery and walking the fortifications and of course the duty free shoppers haven of Main Street.  The Cemetery was very memorable (see the pics).  It’s a long story but Trafalgar and HMS Victory is special for us Rats.  We are some family believe me.
I walked into the afternoon before returning to the hotel to clean up for the evening where I fancied dressing smartly for a change.  At this point I would ask you to have a look at the movie page to see the movie I shot of my suite.  It was bigger than the airport with a lounge, kitchen, wet room, two TVs etc!
So to the second evening.  This evening gave me a story that will not be believed.  I even woke up the next morning and wondered if it really happened!  In a dress shirt, posh black jeans and jacket I cruised a couple of smart bars in Ocean Village where I spent an hour with a similarly attired executive from William Hill who lived on the island.  When he got too drunk to hold the conversation I moved on and ignoring a proposition from a well presented 60 something Jewish heiress (true!) I headed for one final drink in the Irish bar before walking home; it was about 1130pm.
Boxing was on the telly there and I struck up a conversation with 2 guys who were as enthralled as I was with the action.  After several minutes of intelligent chat the black guy really started to show his knowledge.  I follow boxing and this guy really knew his stuff – right back to the pre-war giants like Dempsey and Johnson.  The younger white guy always seemed a little in awe of the older man and it felt like a boss/subordinate relationship.   The white guy was Stuart and the black guy was Viv.  The white guy then started about football and again here the black guy, Viv, excelled.  Stuart then out of the blue said in passing, “...you do you recognise Viv don’t you?” then I twigged.  I’ve had a 15 minute, high quality conversation with one of the greatest footballers England has ever produced.  This was the first black guy to play for England.  This guy played under Brian Clough when he was at his pomp.  This guy has won the European Champions (Cup) League twice (Messi has not done that, nor Steve Gerrard, Rooney, Beckham, Bobby Charlton or Ronaldo) with Nottingham Forest.  This Guy then played for Manchester United and is a good mate of Sir Alex Ferguson.
They offered to buy me a drink and I declined but Viv must have liked me because he insisted!  Then when I didn’t want to outstay my welcome and made plans to go back to my hotel they both insisted that I come next door with them to the Casino where Stuart fancied a flutter, so I did without too much prompting it has to be said!  Well, what would you have done!?  You know, I was never overawed with this.  It felt like 3 strangers each with a rich past, travelling, having a beer, talking and listening.  This has now happened so many times on my trip - simply relaxing and enjoying the moment.  It is so rewarding.  What will home feel like.....
Stuart hit the Blackjack.  It had become apparent that this Oxbridge educated man liked his beer and is a multi-millionaire.  His relationship with Viv was a professional one but clearly they were good mates too.  Stuart’s business was gambling and he appeared to be very well connected.  He and Barry Hearn were close associates and Viv was asked by Stuart to front one of these enterprises via a cold call sometime in the past.  Viv and I got a drink and sat and chatted until 415am mostly on our own and we were on “mate” terms.  Stuart, by this time shitfaced and £100 up and decided we should make our way back to the hotel.  Incredibly we were in the same hotel!  But I had the suite and they had simple rooms – I like the irony.
Mr Viv Anderson came across as a calm, considered, intelligent man who enjoyed a giggle, enjoyed a beer and was in no way up his own arse.  The fact he was an international footballer enriched the conversation and never dominated it.  He was very interested in my career and my travels and had time for the one or two who recognised him in the hours we were together.  Apparently he has a new book out soon and promised to forward a signed copy to my Dad who is a bit of a Cloughie/Nott’m Forest fan.
Alas, my phone had no charge and I went out without my camera but, as he said, “I’m off duty anyway”.  That you were Viv and the sincerity in the final hand shake said it all.  Thanks for the memory mate.
I’ve said it before....what a trip huh?
Some of Viv’s Opinions:
He didn’t say it outright but he fancied Barcelona on the 28th May.  Personally, I think United will do it.  It’s against the odds but they have home advantage.  They need to treat it as a Premiership game and run Barca off the park.
Viv also thought the Liverpool Champions League Final triumph of 2005 was the greatest game of football there has ever been - A big statement for a lifelong Man Utd fan.
The best player he ever played with/against was Bryan Robson.  According to Viv he did everything well and his reading of the game was second to none.

Rute Without Cigarettes – 17th May 2011

I am out of breath writing this because I have just run home after another one of those unexpected evenings that started as one thing and turned into....well, a great night!
I have only been out at a bar a handful of times in the evening since starting my trip and I would not have gone out tonight if it wasn’t for the fact I had run out of fags having arrived back from Malaga airport
I got back at 1115pm and pondered the thought of having no ciggies for at least 10 seconds before deciding to venture out to my local bar some 100 metres away to get a pack of “Luckies”.  To my horror all the bars close to me were closed so I ventured (literally) down town.  It’s a 20 minute walk and I strided out to turn it into a minor workout.
After just missing the closure time of most of the bars here I stumble over a bar that is still open.  I get my fags from the machine and it looks open enough that I can order a beer without too much chance of rejection.  My night begins!
With a smile the barmaid deciphers my appalling Spanish and gives me a Heineken that does not touch the sides and dutifully provides another with the same welcoming smile.  Now the moment that really broke the ice.
The bar had about a dozen people in it and they are still ordering drinks.  4 of them were ladies that came in about the same time as me and were sitting next to me at the bar.  Our nicotine replenishments synchronised and as I finish my fag I passed the place they were sitting outside and not wanting to dump my but on the floor I stubbed it out in there “ashtray”.  There was laughter and low shrieks as the “ashtray” turned out to be there outside supply of nuts in a dish.  The barmaid was with them and my laughter, acts of humility and their comments added up to an all round “take the piss out of the big Englishman” moment!  It was great and the joke lasted when we returned to the inside.
With my gesturing, a few words of Spanish, their few words of English (remember this is no holiday resort – even late night drinking is a quiet Spanish affair – nothing like England where everyone gets loud and hammered) we “talked” about football, my journey, where am I staying etc and then the barmaid produced a free drink for me.  It then got even better.  The doors were locked more nuts and seeds appeared along with the ashtrays – it was a lock in!  They trusted and accepted me.  I left at 0415am after having a great time.  When I left there were more people in the bar than when I got there.  No loudness, no drunk groups of aggressive blokes or girls, just a community socialising.  The streets were silent on the way home.  Europe is so refreshing.  No wonder they can’t understand the English drinking culture.
The Spanish, like the Italians, are a friendly bunch who welcomed me when they did not have to and actively made me feel welcome.  I will return to this bar.
Could this happen with a non-English speaking Spaniard in England?  Not a chance.  England – listen and learn.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Les and Terri – The Perfect Reception Committee May 10th – May 17th 2011

After a reasonable gentle and picturesque drive from Valencia I arrived at Rute in the Cordoba region in Southern Spain about 4pm. Les is an ex-soldier and with my background in the armed forces we could communicate properly. Beer was produced as were sweet lemons for my digs and his wife. She was not for my digs. Terri was formally married to the bloke (Geordie) who owns the house in which I was going to stay in. Confused? It gets more complicated...

Les and Terrie, who have lived in Rute for several years owned a delightful house overlooking the fresh water lake that makes Rute stand out from much of southern Spain. He has some 600 olive trees (big business round here with mile after mile of olive orchards) sweet lemon and other food producing trees. Les has a son that any man would be proud of serving his country in Afghanistan. When I arrived Terri was chairing one of what she calls her "covens". It appears that these are largely made up of middle to "older than that" aged British ex-pat ladies. A great couple and I hope to spend an evening or two with them when Geordie leaves and I need to amuse myself once again.

After a flash run though this small Spanish town Les fired up the house, left and it was time for a shower and relax. I had don thousands of miles across three countries in the last few days and I didn’t realise how tired I was. I slept for a couple of days only venturing from the sofa to get a glass of wine or change the DVD on my laptop. After 2 days the debris surrounding my sofa could be skied down.

Geordie, who owns the house I am staying in, was due to arrive on day three. This gave me the opportunity to get reliable Internet access to update my blog at Malaga Airport. Geordie is an ex-soldier and just about to retire from the prison service and Les and he could have been brothers. Bolt upright, racist and English. Not British, English! I had known Geordie for 15 years or so and he is about to marry and ex-girlfriend of mine who I lived with some 15 years ago. Are you keeping up with these incestuous connections? Geordie is a proud man who is, alas, succumbing to heart and knee issues. These meant that we were basically house bound and that was fine.

For the 6 days we were staying together I worked out, popped over to the bar for my fags and watched DVD’s. We made an abortive trip to Cordoba on the Saturday morning but after 30 min of trying to find a parking space Geord was losing his patience and I decided we should return to Rute.

Today, the 17th May, Geord left Malaga to return to Blighty. I will miss his company. I’m now planning my trip to Gibraltar and my visits to Cordoba and Granada. These three locations are the only remaining destinations of my itinerary and I am beginning to realise my epic, wonderful trip is coming to an end and I want to mark it somehow.

Gibraltar I am not expecting much from but I think I am going to stay at the swanky, colonial style Rock Hotel. Here you must dress for dinner and the piano player knocks out colonial favourites such as "Dining at the Ritz" and "Mad Dogs and Englishman". It will be kitsch but it is a British colony so it is a rare thing and something my little girl may never see.

One interesting thing, I have become acclimatised. Today it is only 24c and I am cold without a long sleeved shirt and jeans. Geordie is sweating. Blighty is going to be a shock to my system! The Melksham Blue Swimming Pool – where I work – will feel cold at 28c.

I’m starting to miss England. I am slowly however becoming weary of being in unfamiliar places and having to make myself understood. I want to start my new business and ride my Kawasaki ZX9R. I want also to see my family, friends and acquaintances. It feels like a kind of weariness the beginnings of homesickness. When I started out I wanted to go further and further away from England and the heartache I left behind there. With that issue resolved now I’m ready to resume my life and push it forward with energy.

Gibraltar I am not expecting much from but I think I am going to stay at the swanky, colonial style Rock Hotel. Here you must dress for dinner and the piano player knocks out colonial favourites such as "Dining at the Ritz" and "Mad Dogs and Englishman". It will be kitsch but it is a British colony so it is a rare thing and something my little girl may never see.

One interesting thing, I have become acclimatised. Today it is only 24c and I am cold without a long sleeved shirt and jeans. Geordie is sweating. Blighty is going to be a shock to my system! The Melksham Blue Swimming Pool – where I work – will feel cold at 28c.

I’m starting to miss England. I am slowly however becoming weary of being in unfamiliar places and having to make myself understood. I want to start my new business and ride my Kawasaki ZX9R. I want also to see my family, friends and acquaintances. It feels like a kind of weariness the beginnings of homesickness. When I started out I wanted to go further and further away from England and the heartache I left behind there. With that issue resolved now I’m ready to resume my life and push it forward with energy.

What a trip huh?

The people of Rute have been wonderful so far. I was acknowledged on my first night at the fiesta and the bar staff, despite being busy, they were patient and of the 5 drinks I had that night 2 were free. My neighbours are mostly old Spanish persons who spend every night sitting out in the road in plastic chairs shooting the shit. I make a point of cleaning the car about every 3 days or so they can see me and talk about me. A way I can break the ice without talking I guess. I am now familiar to them and they now beat me to the "Hola!" when I stick my head out of the door. I like that and I would recommend anyone else contemplating a trip such as this to take a chance with the locals – it removes a little of the loneliness knowing you can go to the car and people want to speak to you. Make friends everywhere you go, respect their customs and avoid offence. Remember, smile and the world smiles with you. So far so good.

This post took 2 days to write.

Gib here we come!  I'm looking forward to some night life.

Long Post But Stay With It!!!

So back to the road movie...


I left feeling that I had copped out on Florence a little. It is a striking city. Busy, vibrant, with legitimate world class buildings and history. It’s full of tourists (like me) and that kind of cheapened it for me. For those buildings and piazzas, to be shown off properly you need to lose the mass hordes of tourists that seem to infect this remarkable place. That said I enjoyed the company of the guys I met so briefly but time to move on to Pompeii.
Pompeii is in the south of Italy. Remember what I had already written about the driving when I entered this country. Well, the further south it got the more extreme the lengths Italian motorists will go to to gain 20ft of space. Indicators are optional as are crash helmets. Increasingly you begin to notice that your car is probably the cleanest and the only un-dented car you have seen for miles and then you start to think you are now a target for every Italian driver. That GB sticker is like the bulls eye. That was only on the Autostrada...more later.

Pompeii – 3rd May to 5th May 2011

So into Pompeii town . As usual I had not booked in advance so objective number 1 being getting a doss for the night. I reason that if I go to the first hotel I come across the chances are my ratio of good to bad ones will even out. So true to form I went for the Hotel Iside in Pompeii. It was Brilliant. Secure parking, family place, clear airy room with a view and a nice functioning bathroom. 50 euro’s. They even insisted on showing me the room first.
True to form, after a 500 mile drive, unpack, wash clothes, shower then out to get something to eat and a beer. The square is a delight and underused. The evening weather was fine, cool (too cool for me now)and about to turn thundery. I sat and took in "down town" Pompeii. Pompeii town is very small. The merry making population of Pompeii was a handful of low key tourists and locals. Just the way I like it. I had a couple of very pleasant beers. Here (as Spain later) drinks come with a plate of little titbits to tantalise the drinkers’ palate and very nice they are to. I’ve had this nice custom a few times. Definitely makes you feel welcome and stay longer than you would normally. You don’t get this in the UK and it’s a shame.
The Italians are great people. Smiles are reciprocated and jokes attempted despite the language. On that score a good number of Italians speak reasonable English and don’t mind practising it. Drinking on the continent is a minor art form i think that is why they do not have our drinking culture issues. In Europe drinking is an important part of the heartbeat of life. Everyone does it and all ages mix. It’s not just drinking beer. The day in the lives of many Europeans is stitched together by quick coffee shots, glass of wine lunch time, small beer or two in the evening before going off home for a spirit of some kind. Culture.
In bed at 10pm then up at 7am to get ready to go to the ruins and the start of a nice day. I really cannot put into words the impact of this place. Vesuvius is in the back ground and it is massive and very close. It looks very menacing indeed. To be truthful, the people of Pompeii, mate. What a bunch of plonkers. You only need to look at this thing to know that WHEN it gets pissed off just run. Immediately. Don’t stop.
The ruins are huge. In terms of acreage, in terms of its clear impact this discovery has on the understanding of this place in history and everything else really. Its great. I hope i will be able to post some of the many photos I have taken somewhere on the blog. Have a look and you will see what i mean. Basically the ruin is the foot print of an entire small town with the top chopped off. So you see shop fronts with marble counters with recessed amphora. These vessels all sorts of stuff from beer to wheat the bakery with capstan like grind stones was off particular note; as was the brothel. I liked that one. It had a snake painted on the outside wall. That snake was a Roman deity that warded off VD.
You really do need to see the pictures.
In the afternoon I bumped into 2 girls from the UK and after lunch we went on to Herculaneum on the train. Again that was another great tour. 11euro’s each site. A definite must see.
I went back to Pompeii for the night where I caught up on my washing, rang home and had an early night with a DVD. The girls had invited me to go with them to Capri the next day and stay over in Sorrento before leaving Italy and as I had the time I thought why not. Jo and Lorna were life time friends. Both professional women of intelligence and depth and I think I bored them rigid. Lorna lived in New Zealand and was spending some time in the UK to catch up with friends and family and decided to go to Italy as well. Nice one.

Going to Sorrento – The Great White Knuckle Ride - 5th May 2011

I promised more driving stories didn’t I? This is the single most hairy drive I have ever had and my car lost its virginity to Italian motoring. I need to do the 16miles from Pompeii to Sorrento and get into my hotel and out the door for the ferry to Capri at 0930. I left at 0735. It’s busy and it is coming at you from all angles. Italian pedestrians do not move for you. You would have to hit one for he or she to hasten their occupancy of the road. There are double parked light and medium trucks on hazard warning lights unloading or having a coffee in the cafe!. There are coaches, groups of men talking and smoking and the roads are solid. Then the coast road begins. You have seen James Bond in the Alps with the cliff hugging road. You got it; it is grown up Scalextric time. There is a "no overtaking" line in the middle of the road. There is a speed limit of 60kmh. All ignored with either a testosterone driven fury or a estrogen fuelled ignorance. They just don’t care. Nose to bumper at 60mph negotiating the tightest, twistiest road I have ever driven on trying to follow the satnav was an intense experience. Bearing in mind if I crash and it all stops. I made it but not before getting lost taking a "detour" that lead up a 1.5mtr wide road and both my wing mirrors took scrapes – at the same time. I was happy though. We caught the ferry as planned and made the 25min or so journey to Capri on time.

The Delightful Capri – 5th May 2011

The fact that the girls had been hardened travellers in the past made them fearless. There were 2 options. Bus or 30 minute walk up to the rock plateau that Capri central so to speak is built. The travellers and I went for the walk option. Have a coffee on the way and get away from the crowds. The alleys are narrow in Capri and its part of its charm. But when they are so steep that a mountain goat would say "fuck off you must be joking!" you know you have made a bad move but as the sweat flowed and the sandaled feet swelled we made the assent and had a couple of beers in the square with the noisy bells. The "streets" are not wide enough for normal traffic so small golf buggy type things are employed for the moving of boxed sized stuff.
The shops are a snapshot of world fashion labels but all of them are small and located in alleys beautify manicured with flowering baskets and other decorations. The cliffs are vertical in places and the little eating areas are high class and as informal or formal as you would like. It’s all very easy there. Sooner or later the heat, mountaineering, and alcohol would generate a move to Foxtrot Oscar and we got the ferry back to Sorrento. Quick clean up and out for drinks and maybe something to eat. We walked around a bit and the girls left me while I talked the merits of the Premier League against Seria A. I was in bed at 12. We met up at breakfast said our "goodbyes" and I checked out of the very nice 4* Hotel Plaza. 130euros per night.

The Shithole Naples – 6th May 2011

The girls were off to Naples to do the museums and do the ubiquitous shopping taking the ferry across the Bay of Naples. Or the train I can’t remember which. Not 30 minutes after our fond farewells’ Text reads : "Train strike! can you take us to Naples". Naples is a shithole of the most unpleasant kind. It is filthy. Rubbish, people, cars, motorbikes, noise everywhere. Real mental stuff. The traffic was immense but it’s another experience. I have driven through the centre of 2 major Italian cities in the trip and I’m so glad I took it on because you do get a feel for the place when you drive through it. Mostly how wealthy it is. Road quality, signage, rufuse collection, the look of the people all give an indication to the general well being of the inhabitants. In Naples they have greasy skin, discoloured or missing teeth and old massacred cars that would not pass scrutineering at a stock car race. Jo had heard that the day before 3 Italian kids on scooters mugged a couple for his Rolex only a couple of days before. Nasty. Napoli, don’t go there.

The Journey to North Italy - 7th May 2011

This, like the great 900 mile journey south 7-8 days previous, is no small undertaking looking back on it. You must concentrate and keep things consistent. Speed, drinks, stops, never stop but never starve or thirst either. I wanted to be at or cross the Alps that shortened day. My next abode was some 1500 miles distant in southern Spain. I wanted to get off to a good start. Essentially it is a straight toll road straight up the western half of the Italian peninsular and it’s fast. By nightfall I had crossed the Alps again and bearing down on Monte Carlo. 700miles? That is the second time I had driven the length of Great Britain in a day. It won’t be the last either.
I got to Monte Carlo and immediately headed for the GP circuit. It was 11.30pm and the roads were clear and Murrey Walker’s voice was in my head saying "..and here is Rattley coming up to casino.." "..Through the tunnel" all with the appropriate sound effects. And guess what. I was.

Cote d’azur – 8th May

By the time I had won the trophy and snogged Princess Gorgeous of Snowdonia I had to rest up for the night. Monte Carlo or bust ay? I spent that night between Monte Carlo and Nice in my car. I slept well and saved a few quid.
A close friend who had done a similar trip 8 years earlier strongly recommended that I take the small coast road along the Cote d’azur and it was very good advice indeed. The road is tight and challenging but the French appreciate this and enjoy the experience too in more modern and upmarket fare than their south Italian cousins. First though through Nice and the other coastal towns to Cannes.
Cannes was very posh and being a bit wiffy from my over nighter with the Mazy I head for the beach and a swim. I find a virtual empty beach and went in the Med for the first time on the trip. It was cold. I got out and sunbathed instead. Tits young and old appeared a disappeared and i took to the road after a couple of hours to find a proper bed for the night early. From Cannes through Miramar I got to Agay via some of the most enjoyable roads god has ever created. They were twisty and pretty clear and with the windows open and that post sunbathe feeling I was happy tanned, clean and slim in new clothes. In early May that was a nice feeling. I was in a different country where everything is different at the operation and climatic levels. It is what I’m doing here and it felt good. The sea was a deeper blue than the sky and Pearl Jam was on loud. I’m cool. Everyone was cool.
I stopped at this very small little hamlet called Agay right on the beach road. I Immediately made friends with a Scottish couple over a late lunch who were biking it and staying in the same hotel. I had lunch and we had a couple of late afternoon beers where upon we agreed to meet up later and go to "Happy Days" cafe for a Fonz inspired burger in seats shaped like Cadilacs. I shit you not, on the Cote D’azur, I am eating in such a place. They grabbed a bottle of wine and went off to their room and I thought that is the last I will see of them today.
The Happy Days Cafe was actually more of a "Jack Rabbit Slims" from Pulp Fiction. A wax works with a pulse but it was clean and classy actually. The life-size Marilyn Munroe added to the plausibility of it all. The owner is a bodybuilder named Francois. A 30’s something rocker with quiff and Yamaha V-Max. I was dressed smartly and it was not long before I struck up a conversation with a French lady and she was prepared to practise her English and for me to likewise my French. This was going to be the first night of my life I was going to have social conversations in a foreign language, French. As I obviously did not eat children and this lady survived our conversation it was not long before I was having pigeon French conversations with a number of people, the most notable of which was a Breton biker. He was great! He hated the French. To him the "French were weak" and the Bretons and the British should rule the world. "We are the same people!" was his assertion. Well said. One thing I was learning was we were all the same people. We are Europeans.
It was not long before the lady I was speaking to got up and sang (with her guitarist partner) rock songs and the Jack Daniels began to flow in earnest complimented by a Fonzy Burger with fries. All this overlooking the Cote d’azur with a gentle, warm breeze in my face. Yeah, I’m travelling all right. I sank best part of a bottle of Jack or 50euros worth anyway and was up a 7am for the next day on the great horseshoe drive up Italy, across southern France, then down the west coast of Spain.

To Spain and beyond! – 9th May

I blatted the next 800-900km on the motorway system and the French part was dogged with toll booths every 50 miles or so. This was not only costly but a bloody nuisance. When you are travelling continental distances it seems as though you have just got settled into drive mode only to be woken out of this trance like concentration to get out of the car and grab a ticket or pay with one. I crossed the Pyrenees via the elevated "coastal" route and joined the Mediterranean Spanish Motorway and turned south towards Barcelona.
The Mediterranean countries are mountainous. Great peaks are either in clumps or can rise volcano like out of a flat base. Monte Cassino was like this in Italy and Spain had some similarities. What a difference an ice age makes; the event that rendered much of GB flat in contrast.
I finally stopped after some 800 miles at 8pm local at a roadside chain motel in Valencia. The type business would use and it was very good to. Secure parking, English speak staff, 24 hr restaurant and spacious room with silent air con. 50euros – excellent value. I had start on the motorways at about 9am stopping only for tolls and fuel so I was knackered and after a very agreeable paella I crashed. Spain is much cheaper for both tolls and fuel than France. They drive better to. The speed limit is 70mph and it is respected. Lane disciple is good and no real nutters to report. Fuel is 1.35 a litre and the tolls about half that of France. Both reductions come as a welcome relief when the mileage I am driving is considered. At this point I had driven 3300miles. Cost is one of the reasons I am going to Spain. Not this but my accommodation overhead. I also need to stop these long mileages and return to my fitness regime or pay the price. Luckily my weight was not a problem. In fact it was becoming a concern. My 34" jeans were beginning to hang. I must be close to 13st now. 5st less than I was 18mths ago. Both professionally and privately I can affect change like no other.
I completed the last 450miles to my destination before 4pm. The run from just south of Valencia to Rute, where my Spanish house awaited, was another little gem. No tolls now and you begin to climb which makes it cool, its morning and the motorway thinned of traffic and the drive had a simple quiet phase. Benidorm passes thankfully on the left as does Alicante and several other well known package holiday destinations. No major towns or anything impede these new Spanish road networks. Well thought out, large distances are easily achievable in a short time.
The first sight of the Sierra Nevada’s was impressive. I was getting used to seeing stunning mountains now but seeing them snow covered when it is 27c outside is a freak. As you get closer and rise the contrasting beauty of snow and parched rock and olive groves is remarkable and I knew that this trip is giving me so much. The decent is spectacular. The Alps was impressive but this was better because it was shorter therefore steeper. The rise was gradual then the car tips its nose down and you down shift into 4th and ride the road. You can feel the cool mountain air give way to 30c heat and i’m on the final leg of the journey on the Granada road. The final motorway section was an off shoot of the Granada road and was flat, straight and clear. No cameras and excellent vision. Foot to the floor time then! 80, 90, 100, 110, 120 finally 125 and hold. She enjoys a good leg stretch as much as i do. The "mileage remaining" on the satnav disappeared as fast as my fuel. The Mazy is a great touring car for 1 or 2 people. It has just enough of everything and is very comfortable. Moscow next year? Maybe the Arctic circle in summer. It’s all easily in reach with this car as is the shops when i get back. 2004, 2.0ltr, 150bhp, Mazda 3 Sport, 5 door saloon in black. 1 owner, 44k, FSH, £5000.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Mont Blanc and the Alps

Florence - First thoughts. 1st May to 2nd May 2011

As soon as I took a pain killer and showered I went for a strole.  I was road weary and hadn't slept for 36 hours but the crash and burn didn't feel imminent so a beer was in order.  DO NOT HAVE A BEER IN A BAR THAT OVER LOOKS THE RIVER!  I had 2 beers.  20 euros!!!!  Lesson 1 learned.  This city is stunning.  The Italians are great.  Chatty, use English and love to do so and...well... they are silly!  Love it.

On the way back after a very entertaining walk around the city I began to walk back to the hotel and came across a small Irish bar in a back street with the Arsenal/Man Utd game on.  Double Rum and Coke 5euros - i'm on the firm.  After another I began to chat to (not "up") the bar maid and before long I had a reserved table at "Tino's".  A small place a little off the beaten track and I was going with Derrick.  Derrick was watching the match and is an ex-brit living in Florence.  Now an American citizen we had an excellent dinner, good wine and returned to the Irish bar where we met Gordon.  Gorden is an American defence attorny on holiday with 8 members of his family.  Inevitably we got shitfaced.  Then the waiters from the restaurant rocked up and we all started to talk drunk bollocks.  Brilliant!

Getting back to the hotel at 1.30 am I was shattered, and pissed.  Nice.  We are meeting up again tonight for dinner and, if last night is anything to go by, the group distruction of a bottle of Mount Gay dark rum.  Now i'm travelling.

I'm going to have another night here.  Today I missed breakfast and decided to rest a little and use the hotel gym and of course write this.  It's 4.15 pm local and I haven't eaten so I'm off out with the camera before the nights activities.  More tomorrow.

Normany to Florence - The drive of a 1000 miles! 30th April to 31st April 2011

Packing up the car I knew this was going to be a fun experience.  I also knew that physically there would be a price to pay for being confined in once upright position for so long.  I had another week in the gite if I wanted it but I had had a great time with my friend Andrew who came over for a few days and as I have been there on two other occasions last summer I had "used up" the local sites of interest.  I also wanted to begin meaningful travel.

Ever since seeing the film "Hannibal" (as in Lector) I wanted to see Florence and early on in my planning is was a "must do".  A close friend (cheers Gary) had suggested that if I did go to Italy cross via the Mont Blanc tunnel for the scenery.  So i booted up the satnav and 860 miles was the forecast.  That is a long way!  Mazda3 2.0ltr Sport Coupe or not, it's still a long way!

The drive was pretty routing motorway driving.  A word to the wise here folks - tolls.  I spent something like £150 on tolls and a similar amount on fuel.  Driving is expensive across Europe.  Flying is cheaper but that isnt the point really is it?  Freedom is the point and as I have said elsewhere on my blog or in a poem freedom does not come cheap - one way or another.

So placing my faith in my immersuably improved core strength to defeat the inevitable back issues I set off and it was pleasent but unremarkable initially.  It was 4pm CET.  I rested for several hours in a motorway service station about 70 miles north of Lyon then set off again to try to catch the dawn at the same time crossing the Alps.  This is where I think my 2-3 month travelling really started.  The gite was nice and I could practise my French etc but Italy was not really planned and it was a definate "drive and sort accommodation when I got there" job.

I left the service station and the dawn broke when i was about 30 miles from the border.  I cannot tell you the beauty of the Alps in that light.  My mouth just fell open again and again and again.  Mont Blanc was reasonable clear of cloud and a stunning sight in the bright early morning sun.  Talking about stunning sights, the taffiff board at the head of the 2km long Mont Blanc tunnel showed 36.50euro 1 way!!!  I choked, the lady in the kiosk laughed, I paid and then I swore.  Mont Bleu Tunnell?  I will post some pics.

On the other side I was in Italy.  A country I had never visited before.  At first the difference was not that marked.  The housing to an untrained eye looked typically "Alpine"  and very quaint.  The decent took miles and as i came down I picked up traffic.  At first it was mostly French.  They wabble all over the road when the get bored but they are ok.  Then more and more Italian cars joined the motorway.  Then the motorway started to become elevated and narrower than the standard UK gauge.  This is the Turin/milan road.  Then the elevated motorway became fucking elevated - hundreds of feet up, narrow, going through more tunnells than bridges and the speed increased to over a ton the second "outside" lane.  A ton with each Italian allowing at least 6 feet of distance to the car in front that had the nerve not to be going at 130mph.  It was scary......at first, then I got into it!

Speed limits were not just ignored by the Italians (and finally I joined in on this) but were ignored by several orders of magnitude.  No speed cameras, no police just anarchic mayhem.  With The Med on my right I looked down (whilst wavering across the narrow motorway like a local) I looked down on the settlements in the valley floors several hundred feet below it was an amazing drive.

As I approached Florence it dawned on me that I was going to have to drive into the centre to find a hotel.  with a hard swallow I gathered my bottle and after 21hrs on the road got myself ready for the gladitorial fight that I imagined Florentine driving to be.  Actually it was fine.  I found a hotel, The Londra, close to the centre and it had secure parking at had all the other elements of a stock 4* hotel and I booked 2 nights.